What are brainwaves? Brainwaves are a by-product of the normal electrical activity of the brain. We can measure them with an EEG machine (electroencephalography — just a fancy name for measuring brainwaves).
Electrical activity of our brain? The brain is made of millions of specialized cells called neurons, which are all interlinked in a beautifully complex way. Each neuron has many little arms (dendrites) which stick out and hold hands with their neighbors to tell each other what they’re up to. The communicate using an electrochemical message (part electrical and part chemical). Don’t worry about the exact mechanism involved here, as it isn’t important. These messages are being sent literally millions and millions of times per second and the result is a measurable amount of electrical activity which can be recorded by the EEG as a brainwave.
Why measure brainwaves? As we are in different states of mind, our brains emit different patterns of electrical activity. For example, when we are asleep, our brains are doing very different things to when we are awake, which shows up differently on an EEG machine. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different brain waves that have been measured as people are in different states of mind:
Gamma waves — Active. Formation of ideas, language, memory processing, various types of learning.
Beta waves — Awake. Where you are during most of your waking life.
Alpha waves — Focused. State of relaxed effortless alertness. The states of mind have been described as tranquil, peaceful, light, floating. Important for creativity and optimizing peak performance.
Theta waves — Light sleep. Extreme relaxation, deep meditation.
Delta waves — Deep dreamless sleep.
Brain waves are categorized according to the speed of their zig zaggyness. Basically, the more zig zags on the EEG, the faster your brain is going. So Gamma waves are like a child scribbling. Fast and erratic. While Delta brain waves are like a ship rocking at sea. Slooow. Makes sense right? Gamma — active. Delta — deep sleep. The rest are somewhere in between.
What are alpha waves? Alpha waves are the brain waves that occur when you are in a state of relaxed attentiveness. You are calm, present, alert and focused. Think of a track athlete poised and ready just before the gun fires. Imagine a slow motion boxing scene — boxers in the zone, the crowd muted, the lights faded and all the attention is locked firmly on the opponent. Think of an academic consuming information — intuition leading the way, shifting his focus from point to point with ease and flow. These are the states of mind that create alpha brain waves. They are creative and performance states of mind where we absorb ourselves in the moment and indulge in the finer details. They are the places where we perform at our optimal and most innovative. It’s not to say we always want to be there, but those of us who want to spend greater amounts of time in an alpha state of mind can learn to do so at will.